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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

What to Say Instead of “Sorry”

About two weeks ago, Pantene launched a second video in its #ShineStrong campaign titled “Not Sorry,” encouraging women to stop apologizing all the time, especially in the workplace.

While the video was met with mixed reviews (oh, the irony of a beauty company telling women to be confident—while subversively telling them they need to be well-styled, too), the message is one that we can all take back to the office: We need to stop apologizing for tiny things like moving to share an armrest or being 30 seconds late to a meeting.

Think about it: How many times do you apologize for something small in the workplace? For example, when giving a presentation, do you say “sorry” when someone asks for you to clarify your last statement or when a co-worker makes a request for something as simple as going back one slide?

Science backs up that women do in fact apologize more than men: A 2010 study found that women have a higher offense threshold than men, meaning that they find the same situations much more severe and worthy of apology.

But a lot of times the word “sorry” gets used in place of another word; we just apologize out of habit more than out of necessity. Doing so, though, can really put your professional life at risk. Over-apologizing can lead others to doubt you or not have as much confidence in your abilities. And frankly, it doesn’t help solve a problem as much as taking action can. (For more on this, check out Jennifer Barrett’s great article, “Why Apologizing Hurts Us More Than We Know.”)

So, next time you’re thinking of apologizing, pause and consider if it’s really what you need to say. If not? Try one of these alternatives to break the cycle of “sorry.”

“Thank You”

If someone points out a small typo in the rough draft of a presentation you put together or helps you wipe up some coffee you spilled on the conference table, a “thanks” is more in order than a “sorry.” Neither situation is dire, and showing someone you appreciate the help is better than having his or her confidence in you diminished.


Typically, adding in a “whoops” or something similar is a nice way to take responsibility for something going wrong without needing a full-blown apology. Most little mistakes in the office are not job-threatening, so no need to apologize for every tiny error you make.


Going back to the earlier example of giving a presentation, did someone just ask you to go back a slide in a PowerPoint? There’s no reason to say, “Oh, sorry!” when he or she is simply making a request, not accusing you of anything. Remember: You did nothing wrong. So say “okay” (or say nothing at all!) and just do it.


Sometimes an apology really is in order, like when you’ve offended a co-worker or dropped the ball on a large project. For those situations, try Jessica Taylor’s sound advice for doing it right—and moving on from the mistake.

Overall, there’s typically not as much to apologize for as you think. Sorry, not sorry.

Photo of sorry note courtesy of Shutterstock.

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